Let’s Talk

I have noticed several discussions or meetings where I thought I understood the message but found out that everyone else had heard something different. The worse case was where we all had the same understanding and can repeat back the same message, but still believe there is a difference.  We talked about that in a past blog — this time I want to focus on the element of emotions. I have always leaned towards a literal translation of facts instead of what my partner would call reality.  Here is my experience of the past week.

I was searching for a lively discussion, so I went into the clubhouse to see what groups were there.  The first room had a sign saying there was a discussion about the Confederate Flag.  This topic has become popular in Raleigh the last few months. Well, I like history, so I thought this would be fun.  I was involved with a group many years ago researching the history of the war, the uniforms and the human element of the conflict. I remember one morning waking up with this group, in a Sibley tent to coffee grounds and hardtack for breakfast.  Lots of memories, but I digress some.

I stepped into the room, and there was not a confederate flag in the room.  OK, a little overstated, I found several of the battle standards used by the Army of Northern Virginia, and that was it.  There was a discussion going on, but the speaker didn’t seem to know the difference between a battle flag and navy jack, so I left that room somewhat confused.  Oh well, a few more places to check out. 

The next room had a sign saying that the group was discussing the true meaning of Christmas.  A few years back I toyed with the idea of going to a seminary so, I thought, this would be interesting.  I found people talking about a birthday, but they didn’t seem to know the date and minimal discussion about the actual event.   I left that room as well. 

Now out in the hallway, taking a break from all the walking, I thought about what I had just seen.  None of the discussion groups were talking about facts that related to the topic posted.  This got me to thinking, what were they talking about? I went back and listened for a while, and I noticed a pattern.  In each room they were talking about emotions and feelings, not about facts.  In the flag discussion, they were talking about the symbolism of the banner used by the troops during battle.   The discussion was about what that banner represented today, not historical facts.  In the Christmas discussion, they were talking about what the season has become to represent, not an anointing or even a mass. In each case the group was not interested in facts or a history lesson, they were focused on their emotions.

The more I thought about other meetings, and discussions I have been involved with I realized that this happens most of the time.  The participants were only interested in facts that would support their position. The focus was on their emotions.  If they felt joy, they wanted to expand that joy.  If fear or anger they tried to expand that awareness as well. Kind of like most of the political discussions I have heard.

What this all suggests to me is that if you do not understand the emotions, you won’t understand the message.  I have been in several discussion where I thought the message was understood only to be surprised by what I perceived everyone else understood.

I also believe that there are circumstances where you have to change the discussion.  Sometimes you need to change the expectations to get back on track.  I remember some of my discussions with my medical team.  I would explain in detail how I was feeling, fully expecting an emotional response justifying what I was feeling.  What I usually got was a response of something like this: Oh, that is to be expected — no battery of test needed.  If I wanted to get back to healing, I had to change my focus.  I will point out that I had some great pity parties.

Sometimes at work, I find the same thing happening.  Have a small party and then it is time to get back on track.  As a leader or a manager, it will be your job to know that balance point.  You can’t do that if you do not recognize the part emotions and feelings play in the discussion.